Omeprazole is a commonly prescribed drug for gastric ulcers in horses, it is a Proton Pump Inhibitor or PPI, and has been until recently considered to be a safe drug, but recent information has come to light regarding the detrimental effects to health in long- term use. Omeprazole suppresses gastric acid which causes gastritis (inflammation of the stomach wall), omeprazole also stimulates the production of gastrin which is a potent growth factor known to cause hyperplasia of the enterochromaffin-like cells adding to the inflammation of the gut wall (gastritis). A healthy stomach pH creates an environment where the conversion of ingested nitrates (grass, forage, concentrates, water) to a safe form (n-nitrosation) is achieved by the released of ascorbic acid from healthy gastric mucosa, when this is missing, as in the case of long term use of omeprazole then the nitrates are converted to substances that are inflammatory and detrimental to the health of the gut wall. Omeprazole causes the proliferation of some bacteria which also increase the amount of nitrate within the stomach.
If your horse has had long term omeprazole, then increasing the amount of dietary plant anti -oxidants in the diet will help restore the integrity and health of the stomach. All plant anti-oxidants strongly promote the released of ascorbic acid. Diverse meadow communities are full of plants which are both anti- ulcerogenic and anti -microbial, two of the best are Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and Chickweed (stellaria media). Both are good fresh or dried and can be offered as a daily hedgerow cutting mix for stabled horses.
The American Chemical Society have devised an intestinal cell line to measure how much iron is being absorbed through the membrane of the gut.. We ourselves have used such a cell line to measure the effect of a plant compound on gastric ulcers and found the results to be accurate, when using the calculated cell line dosage in vitro. In other words, the cell line helped to find out the effective dosage before testing with gastroscopy. This system is used to test mineral uptake in baby milk preparations and is used extensively to compare bioavailability of iron supplements.
This cell line was used to check for the inhibition of iron uptake by gallic acid (wild blueberries, bark of trees) polyphenols and tannins, (yarrow, thyme, oak, oregano, willow), chlorogenic acid (blueberries, parsley). The results were as follows 5 mg of tannic acid inhibited iron uptake by 20%, 25 mg by 67% and 100mg by 88%, gallic acid inhibited iron uptake by the same amount whilst chlorogenic acid was much lower.
Don’t worry if you don’t have too much iron in the diet, plants also contain ascorbic acid, this chemical helps to colour flowers and berries, bryophytes are also high in ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid reduces the inhibition of iron by gallic acid, polyphenols and tannins. As usual nature has its system of health, it’s called biodiversity, instead of trying to micro manage the mineral intake, have some fun, plant some herbs, forbs and hedges and increase natures abundant supply of dietary goodness!
References supplied on request
We are having a late spring here in Wales following subzero temperatures which killed off many plants that had been growing through out the winter due to favourable temperatures. Happy now to see the first wild garlic shoots appearing in the wood where the horses forage. Wild Garlic is milder than the cultivated variety and the leaves contain less potent chemicals than the bulbs. Studies in Germany have proven that Wild Garlic contains more magnesium, manganese, and four times the amount of sulphur compounds than common garlic. Sulphur is great for the circulation of the foot and flexibility of the joints. The pungent aroma that rises from the wild garlic plant contains numerous antiseptic volatile organic compounds that aid in the recovery from infection and viral challenges. For sick stabled horses picking a few plants to place in the stable will help to expose them to the healing properties of the VOC’s.
It's been a bad weather week here in Wales, it is warming up and getting back to normal, but nothing new is growing so posting an overview of a few spring plants with benefits to horse health, springs on its way!
Five facts about naturally grazing/native/feral horses
If horses eat less than their potential maximum intake (around 16kg dry food per day for 400-500 kg horse) then the rate of nutrient extraction also falls meaning that putting a horse on a diet is a difficult process as the quantity a horse consumes is directly related to the nutrient intake.
Why does my horse eat oak leaves, branches and bark? Oaks have the reputation of being poisonous but contain many beneficial phytochemicals. The acorns contain rapidly degradable tannins that are quickly taken into the blood stream, whereas the leaves and bark contain tannins which are less able to be absorbed across the gut wall, increasing the benefits to the gut and reducing internal toxicity.
Oaks contain more tannins than any other plant meaning the horse needs to eat less, 1g will provide protection to the mucosal membrane, against the effects of an increase of gastric acid production (during times of stress). If your horse seems to be seeking out oak leaves and eating more than a few leaves, he may be using the increase to reduce gastric acid production by the proton pump, repairing and preventing hypersecretion. Tannins also inhibit the production of pepsin, produced by the equine gut in times of stress.
Horses with access to oaks produce proline (a protein) which protects them against the toxic effect of tannins, in other words the horse becomes conditioned to eating food containing tannins. Horses that have access to some oak leaves will use protein better and will also gain condition. Tannins reduce parasites, horses secrete more eggs, parasites also seem to be less fertile. tannins especially target nematodes or round worms, the most common to affect horses from this group is the small redworm.
How to get the best out of willow, not all willows contain the same chemicals
The UK has over 30 varieties of willow and most are relished by our horses and sought out by owners because of the anti -inflammatory chemicals they contain. Salicins are the cited as THE anti-inflammatory chemical, but there are many other highly beneficial chemicals making salix one of nature’s most diverse and beneficial medicine cabinets.
Goat Willow is one of the best....
also known as ‘great sallow’ and ‘pussy willow’, there is another variety called common sallow also known as ‘pussy willow’ but it has narrow leaves and smaller flowers (the grey silky flowers will be out at the beginning of March). The trees can be 10m high and live for 300 years.
Most of the important analysis and research has been done in Russia and China, both countries have protected their natural resources and reliance on plants as providers of medicine. Whilst in the west most prefer or are encouraged to reach for the bottle of pills!
The goat willow is widely used in phytomedicine, a horse grazing freely is likely to choose the bits of the plant he needs. A stabled horse will mostly go for the leaves before the bark, though through the winter the bark is likely to be stripped for nutrients. If you are buying a herbal preparation it will contain ground bark possibly with a fixed % of salicin, likely to come from the Salix Alba (white willow) this can be an irritant to some horses especially those with gastric ulcers.
All parts of the goat willow can and will be eaten but starting with the leaves which our own herd seem to prefer;-
The leaves are highest in calcium, magnesium, potassium and are a significant provider of silicon. Silicon increases the absorption of the other minerals and chemicals by approx. 20%, silicon also amplifies the effects of drugs such as anti biotics and anti-inflammatories meaning they will be more effective and or faster acting. We do include silicon in our own gastric ulcer product to increase protection time and boost the effect of the anti -oxidants, the benefits/research relating to the use of silicon can be found within Brazilian phyto-medical journals.
Around 43% of the leaves (and the young stems and branches) are made of beta glucan. To me this is one of the most important and significant reasons for allowing horses to eat willow leaves. Beta glucan and glucans in general play a significant part in the health of the immune system and are also beneficial to the G.I. tract. Respiratory diseases and allergies will respond to treatment with beta glucans, the steroid and silicon content of the leaves magnify their action. Fresh and in combination with other plant chemicals is the best form to feed, however there are products on the market that include beta glucan but without the amplifying effects of the other compounds that make goat willow so effective.
Other significant chemicals with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties are impressive and include catechin, benzenedicarboxylic acid, saligenin, methyl 1-hydroxy-6-oxocyclohex-2-enecarboxylate, catechol, propyl acetate and sitosterol.
Best Health Tip- the leaves are most effective against respiratory viruses and bacterial infections. The beta glucan content will strengthen the G.I. tract and the boost the immune system. Silicon content acts as an amplification tool increasing the effects of all other beneficial chemicals by 20%. All these benefits without even mentioning the anti inflammatory effects, as we move into spring look out for a post on the benefits of the flowers.....
Leptin to laminitis..... from friend to foe
Leptin is a hormone and signalling chemical that originates and is released from adipose tissue, it starts out as a friend by regulating and creating an energy balance through a wide range of functions, it also adjusts the feeling of hunger and tells the horse to stop eating when it is full. Its main purpose is to prevent death from starvation through the control of energy when food is sparse, but in our modern equine management systems this hormone is beginning to mutate and take on a different more sinister role.
Because leptin is released from the adipose tissue, the more fat deposits the horse has the more leptin these fat pads produce. In a well covered but not fat BMI score of less than 7 cresty neck score of 3 or less leptin will be working in a normal way, active during meal times telling the horse to stop eating and causing the horse to feel full. The problems start when the horse has access to too many simple carbs (eg high sugar grass, corn syrup sprayed onto many bagged foods) and processed foods which disrupt the ability of leptin to stop the horse from consuming too much. This creates Hungry Horse Syndrome, with leptin unregulated the horse is permanently hungry and desires to eat continually (think we all know a pony/horse like that!) A high sugar/simple carb diet sort of diet triggers or starts a resistance to the action of leptin, causing it to gorge on its food and seek to eat more and more high sugar food to satiate the continuous feeling of emptiness leptin resistance creates. As leptin resistance increases so does insulin resistance causing spikes of blood sugar levels as the horse is driven to consume more and more sugar without becoming satiated or full. It’s interesting to note that stress and periods of box rest also cause leptin levels to rise.
During leptin resistance the hormone starts to act in an uncontrolled fashion and simply starts to do its own thing (self regulation) it undergoes a process of genetic mutation. Evidence suggests that central leptin resistance in horses causes obesity and that obesity-induced leptin resistance injures numerous peripheral tissues, including liver, pancreas, platelets and the vascular system (laminitis). This metabolic- and inflammatory-mediated damage may result from either resistance to leptin's action in selective tissues such as the vascular system, or excess leptin action from adiposity-associated hyperleptinemia. In this sense, the term "leptin resistance" encompasses a complex pathophysiological phenomenon. The leptin pathways include functional interactions with insulin, and the innate immune system, such as interleukin-6.
Leptin levels will decrease with exercise and limited or no access to sugar or processed food, track systems and paradise paddocks come into their own through the long winter months as they prevent the horse from standing for long periods in a box which causes a natural rise in leptin
Blackberry tips contain high levels of the anti-oxidants which help reduce the size of a cresty neck and prevent leptin dysregulation.
For the past seven years we have been working with a team of scientists attempting to manufacture an anti -diabetic compound from ivy (hedera), the problems include harvesting the berries and making the end product stable enough to add to a manufacturing process. The saponin has been tested on dairy cattle and we have done some initial tests on horse (gut bacteria) However there is still a long way to go and most of the work is protected by IP and Patents so forgive my lack of detail, initially I was horrified at the thought of horses consuming ivy and was adamant that I had never seen any of my horses eating it, EVER! I soon realised that was probably because they had never had access to it…. Some of our herd eat it, some don’t and for that reason I wouldn’t cut any and offer it to a stabled horse but I would try to make it available to the horse in the field (growing). A user friendly saponin can be found in Phytolean Plus.
The word sapo means soap in latin. Saponins make great natural detergents but are toxic if injected into the blood stream, however if eaten in small quantities, all horses require minute amounts to aid digestion, though some horses particularly ‘good doers’ seem to have a large appetite for plants containing these chemicals. Saponins have many medicinal properties because they mimic and interact with the endocrine system (hormones) leading to positive changes within the metabolism.
Saponins are also able to feed the good gut bacteria and make new substances (metabolites) which are then absorbed across the gut wall and are further changed by the liver. These new molecules are fatty esters which have a significant effect on many chronic disease and a positive effect on metabolism.
Saponins reduce those bacteria capable of breaking down the otherwise indigestible alimentary polysaccharides fructans.
Saponins slow down the rate of both gastric emptying and the rate of sugar transport across the gut wall, if you see a horse taking snatches of ivy (hedera) the reason is likely to buffer the effects of a high carbohydrate meal.
In more detail the saponins in ivy (and sarsaparilla) are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors which delay the absorption of complex carbohydrates, inhibiting postprandial glucose peaks thereby leading to decreased postprandial insulin levels. I have a family of ‘good doers’ who are all avid eaters of ivy, if I cut down the tree like ivy shrubs from the stone walls and leave it in the fields it is stripped within days leaving only the large branches.
Plants containing high levels of plant saponins include woody shrubby bushes with small berries such as hedera (ivy) and berberine. Many evergreen shrubs contain saponins such as holly and the very sharp and prickly Butchers Broom. In our experience horse do seek them out and seem to enjoy nibbling the young green leaves (probably because they are less sharp!) and berries. The ivy (hedera) seems to be a chosen in early spring before the berries turn a dark purple.
Could a small daily dose of white willow bark protect against the onset of laminitis?
The use of metabolomics is a fast track to discovering underlying causes and mechanisms of disease in humans and horses. This technique is a rapidly growing area simply because of the technology available to detect and identify the signaling and inflammatory chemicals that are released during a disease process. Many of you are in a state of complete shock when a previously completely well horse suddenly develops a devastating laminitic attack often causing death and certainly causing devastation, these attacks occur even when the diet is strictly managed and every care is taken to avoid the event. In a very recent paper scientists have recreated the ‘food poisoning’ event that occurs in the hind gut which allows toxins to flood through the gastro intestinal tract, leading to multi organ failure which eventually causes the failure of the sensitive laminae in the feet but which originally occurs during a failure event in the gut. It is very important to understand that this type of laminitis is different to endocrinopathic laminits relating to EMS which appears to have a build- up time and relates to adipose tissue raised insulin/glucose levels and the release of inflammatory chemicals from the fat pad deposits. It is entirely possible to have both of course.
The scientists found that ‘well’ horses release one chemical signaling marker ( determinable by blood testing) in the small intestine which remains stable, but the level of this chemical falls prior to an attack of the ‘food poisoning’ type of laminitis which also precedes the failure of the gut barrier prior to the laminitis/ colic event. There appears to be a correlation between the production of this chemical, the level to which it falls and the symptoms which occur after. Making it possible for the first time to predict whether the horse is likely to have multiple organ failure, ie if the levels drop below a certain measurable amount the horse will develop colic like symptoms followed by a devastating attack of laminitis, it can also predict those horses which will survive and those which are likely to die. This means that owners will be able to know and understand that there apparently ‘well’ looking horse is in fact ‘sick’ with the potential for a life threatening ‘food poisoning’ event
This also means that there is a potential window of opportunity to manage the gastro intestinal event before it hits the feet. Very surprisingly it was also discovered that a horse will produce two chemicals that are identical to compounds occurring in white willow and one other common hedgerow plant both prior and during the devastating inflammatory event without being fed either plant. This was a completely unexpected result and one which may present an opportunity for prevention and intervention. As the science is going to take some time to trickle through from the research labs to the stable yard, it may be worth examining the subject of prevention more closely, the doses of both compounds are very small and if given as an oral supplementation require both careful management and purity of compounds. If anyone is interesting in knowing more please let me know as the area of inflammation is complex and will require some unravelling before safe doses can be recommended. We are currently funded for research in the area of metabolomics/ respiratory bleeding in racehorses but have been offered a follow on year if enough of you are interested it may be possible to include or put together another study. With the technology available it might also be possible to develop a test using saliva rather than blood which would make management much easier and would serve to test whether the dose of the two natural compounds are doing the job.